KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 — Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today said that the labour force must double its efforts to revive the pandemic-hit economy once the outbreak is contained, as he predicted workers will remain sluggish even when restrictions are lifted.

“Work ethics may lack vigour,” he said during a live feed question and answer session with the public on Facebook this morning.

“So we have to try and rebuild ourselves to work harder because only with hard work can we revive the economy quicker.”

The country’s fourth and seventh prime minister had last week called the Covid-19 pandemic  “terrible catastrophe”, predicting massive layoffs by mostly non-essential businesses losing customers.

The travel restrictions, enforced since before the start of the movement control order, will also hit the country’s tourism industry hard, he said. Tourism is a key income generator for both the government and for Malaysians.

Today, Dr Mahathir said he expects the economy to heal once the outbreak is contained, but the process will take some time.

“The economy will recover when we are no longer stuck in our efforts to fight the epidemic,” he said.

“But it will take a long time.”

Small and medium enterprises have warned of the possibility of mass retrenchment following what they felt was the government’s failure to provide the necessary cash aid to help businesses stay afloat.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin last Friday unveiled a RM250 billion stimulus package, of which RM100 billion, mostly in credit and guarantees, is meant to help small- and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Industry representatives responded critically to the announcement.  As most small businesses are already in debt, they said what is needed isn't more loans but direct cash assistance instead.

About a third of SMEs said they have cash just enough to last through March, while another 38 per cent to last until April, an online survey conducted by the SME Association of Malaysia (SME Malaysia) found.

Liquidity had topped their concerns as profit margins shrunk to near zero, the association’s president Datuk Michael Kang said.